Passover is coming! This is the one Jewish holiday I get truly giddy about. And I am especially excited to experience it with my new family this year, as sadly I will not make it home in time for the two seders. Pesach is so steeped in tradition for me, so I am curious how this year is going to go. It will be different, but it will probably be amazing.
Passover brings up so many things for so many people. One of the reasons I enjoy it is because of the spirit that surrounds it from so many Jews across the board- that of thoughtfulness. Even the most stubborn, unquestioning Jew thinks and rethinks certain things each year at the Passover seder. We are forced to take a good hard look at things both physical and spiritual, through cleaning every nook and cranny of the house, through reading through the same story and analyzing it and bringing a new outlook to it before getting to eat during the seder, through depriving ourselves of all the bread-related products we consume on a regular basis and being forced to find and try new foods. More Jews observe the strict rituals of Passover than any other holiday, and the rituals and restrictions are compasses for reflection and renewal.
One passage we meditate on not only every Passover, but throughout the year, is “we [Jews] were once slaves in the land of Egypt.” Each Haggadah states its mission: “B’khol dor va-dor hayav adam lirot et atzmo k’ilu hu yatzah mi-Mitzrayim“–”All people, in every generation, should see themselves as having experienced the Exodus from Egypt.”
So, in the words of Rabbi Uri’s brother, we should simultaneously remember that that time has passed, and celebrate and appreciate all the ways in which we are not in Egypt, but also put ourselves in the shoes of our ancestors and truly empathize with the turmoil of our ancestors and those around us.
As a part of AVODAH, we encounter many groups of people who are still encapsulated in a figurative Egypt, in figurative slavery. Like the Jews, many of these groups have made much progress in coming out of their Egypts, but are still enslaved in one way or another. This year, I think in addition to contemplating what still enslaves me, like the inability to resist hunger urges and the inhibitions that continue to keep me from getting to know every amazing person I meet, I will step out of the Jew-centric thinking for a second and contemplate where the rest of the world might be. We still have a long way to go.
I especially will think about IPNO clients I have met who were recently or still are very much slaves, wrongfully incarcerated (or even just incarcerated) doing hard work for slave wages. I will think about a black exoneree who for 27 years was forced to pick cotton before being found innocent and released. I will think about the men I have met still inside who are working and making 25 cents a day.
We were once slaves in the land of Egypt. Many still are. We remember our experience, the pain of it and the joy of release, what better way to do so than put ourselves in the shoes of those currently slaves, in addition to the tattered sandals of our ancestors?